Selection tool could revolutionize hiring, online dating

'Synthetic validity' holds promise for better hiring decisions, billions in savings

With the assembly line, Henry Ford created a unified production process that revolutionized the manufacturing industry. Now, a University of Calgary business professor has designed a unified selection process that promises to revolutionize the world of human resources.

Its technical name is 'synthetic validity,' and it has been the Holy Grail of business academics for the past 50 years. Once the system is implemented it's expected to streamline hiring processes, save businesses many thousands of dollars, and contribute hundreds of billions of dollars annually to North American economies.

And what's more, it can be applied to online dating.

"Essentially this is a single standardized system that could select almost anybody for anything in one-thousandth the time and one-thousandth the cost," says Dr. Piers Steel, a professor in the U of C's Haskayne School of Business and lead author of a paper on synthetic validity in the March International Journal of Selection and Assessment.

"We've all seen people get hired into the wrong jobs, but this system would almost eliminate that possibility and instead identify the best candidates available in any given applicant pool." Steel notes that in some jobs, the top one per cent outperforms the bottom one per cent by a ratio of about 50 to 1. "You could call it the Rambo factor; you get one Rambo and you can wipe out several platoons quite easily." The top performers are worth many times their salary, while those at the bottom can actually wind up costing their employers.

The way the system would identify more Rambos for any given position is based on a comprehensive data set of information about the skills and performances of about 50,000 people currently employed in a range of jobs. Over time, as more people used the system, it would continually improve and refine its selection processes.

Current selection systems use a similar process, but they are labour intensive, cost many thousands of dollars, and are available only to a minority of the largest companies. Steel's envisioned online computerized system would create a high-quality selection system in hours, cost only pennies, and be able to withstand the harshest legal scrutiny.

"This is a significant breakthrough and could provide Canada with a global competitive advantage," says David Knudson CHRP, President of the Human Resources Institute of Alberta. "Every business in Canada would be interested in this."

Although the system is designed to select the best people for the job, it could easily be applied to select people for a romantic relationship. "A lot of online dating services are struggling with this very issue," Steel says. "It's very difficult to weigh all the different elements that are going to make two people happy together, but synthetic validity should do a better job than what's currently available." It would be far more precise and should result in relationships working in both the short and the long term, he says.

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Dr. Piers Steel can be reached at (403) 220-8428, or by email at piers.steel@haskayne.ucalgary.ca. For more information, contact Greg Harris, University of Calgary media relations, at (403) 220-3506, or 540-7306, or gharris@ucalgary.ca.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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